Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Romney Gaffe is the norm

The word gaffe is often confused for the term "gaff," or penny-gaff, which described a 19th century makeshift theater that offered cheap, mindless and often vulgar entertainment. 

As Mitt Romney walked toward his motorcade Tuesday morning in Warsaw, Poland, Washington Post reporter Philip Rucker yelled a question in his direction: "What about your gaffes?"

Rucker didn't specify which gaffes, but 4,500 miles away, his Post colleague Eugene Robinson wrote in that morning's paper on a few that had become media fixations during Romney’s six-day overseas trip, which he dubbed "gaffepalooza."

Whether at home or abroad, presidential candidates' so-called gaffes -- and the media's preoccupation with each inartfully phrased or impolitic remark -- have defined the 2012 election. Gaffes get tweeted, blogged, and reported. Cable pundits declare them game-changers. And rival campaigns amplify them through any means possible. When that's done, the story becomes whether the campaign gaffed in cleaning up its gaffe.

Reporters complain that Romney's too robotic and Obama's too detached. But given that media's extensive coverage of gaffes so far, including at The Huffington Post, the chances of unscripted moments or off-the-cuff question-and-answer sessions seem likely to grow more remote from now until November. Reporters, in short, may be facilitating the very reality they detest.
"The energy of the press corps is to find the silliest and most twistable thing said on any given day and run with that," said longtime Republican consultant Steve Schmidt. "And the end product is that candidates are going to be more closed off from the press."
More than most, Schmidt understands the increasingly unbalanced choice between close-scripted politics and free-wheeling campaigning. Managing Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, he was tasked with buttoning up a shoot-from-the-hip politician.
"The accessibility that John McCain was famous for over the course of an eight-year period went from being a huge asset in 2000 to enormous liability in 2008," Schmidt recalled. "The conclusion everyone came to was that it was absolutely impossible to deliver a message to the American people when you handed a microphone over to the audience -- with 1 out of 3 questioners who were crazy -- or, two, being surrounded by a bunch of very young reporters on the campaign plane who ... were interested in asking a question to elicit the most embarrassing answer."
The 2012 cycle has only made that calculation easier, Schmidt and other campaign vets insisted. It's not just that younger reporters looking to make a splash are populating the bus. It's that a Balkanized media landscape has changed the way the press operates.
"I don't think politicians collectively today make any more gaffes than 2008, or 2004, or 2000, or '96 or '92," said Jonathan Prince, who was John Edwards' deputy campaign manager in 2008 Democratic presidential primary. "I think one thing has changed: it's easier for the press and opposing campaigns (and their super PAC affiliates) to discover gaffes and easier -- and faster -- for them to spread, or be promulgated."

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